Monthly Archives: November 2012

November 2012 update

It’s November 22; a fierce southeast gale is blowing so I thought I’d update our bird sightings before the power goes out.  Maybe the Short-eared Owl floating over the Masset Golf Course yesterday, November 21, will have been blown away.  It’s been an amazing few weeks and scanning the junco flocks is paying off big-time. It started with a rare American Tree Sparrow feeding with a flock of Juncos near Masset in early November. On November 14, in Sandspit, Peter found a Brambling ground-feeding with them and in the nearby trees very late wood-warblers fed busily. Townsend’s Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers and three Yellow-rumped, both Myrtle and Audubons. Twelve Snowy Owls  sat on the margins of the beach.

On November 15, again with juncos in Masset, a Northern Shrike scooted through the low bush. It was an immature bird, the first we’ve seen for at least two years. Two Snowy Owls perched on an old boat in Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary and many ducks have returned to dabble along the edges. The Gadwall are back and a Eurasian Wigeon feeds with a flock of American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal.

On November 16, taking advantage of a lovely sunny day, we went south again and, again with a large junco flock, found 4 Townsend’s Warblers, 4 Orange-crowned Warblers, 3 Myrtle and 1 Audubon’s, 4 White-crowned Sparrows, 1 Golden-crowned Sparrow, 2 Fox Sparrows and 3 Song Sparrows. I mention all the birds, because it’s so exceptional here to find so many species so close to one another feeding like crazy in the sun. It was like a little bit of paradise. There were 7 Snowy Owls, some we know have died as we have seen the carcasses, but others may have gone south.

On November 19, we went back to Sandspit as Peter was flying to Toronto for a family visit. Before he left Masset he caught a glimpse of the White-throated Sparrow Margo had seen the evening before at our feeder. We have since heard of another one in Port Clements on November 20. The feeding flock showed up in Sandspit again when the sun came out for an hour or so, and again, the Townsend’s, Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumps and White-crowned Sparrows were active. We re-found the Brambling that Peter had seen earlier in the week, Margo’s first sighting for the year.  Around the corner a small flock of American Robins flitted around and close by a Purple Finch, subtle and elusive, fed on snowberries.  Our first for a few years here.   I’ll try and publish a few few photos  when the wind goes down.

Common Greenshank in July

A few exciting birds showed up on Haida Gwaii this summer. We were so busy with bird surveys, family visits and other fun things that I had no time to catch up. The rose garden also needed attention as did the dog and cat. Then Peter went a-birding. This is his report:

On July 18 at Sandspit, on a rising tide, Peter Hamel was excitedly watching an adult Red-necked Stint in worn alternate plumage feeding on the high beach in seaweed with other peeps and Sanderlings when a Common Greenshank, in alternate plumage, landed at the tideline below him. Unfortunately, he had no time to take a photo before it flew up, being flushed by an eagle and some ravens. It circled around him before calling three times and heading south with a twisting, erratic flight pattern. This is the first record for this species for Haida Gwaii. 

Early May 2012

The first few weeks in May are usually the best time to watch migration.  It’s been a cold season and this year seems quieter than usual. Although large flocks of White-fronted Geese flew north in large skeins, they didn’t land in any great number.  At one of the island’s airports staff do everything possible to prevent geese from landing, including using propane ‘bangers’ to scare them away. This year they didn’t need any. Except for a few small, remnant flocks, the birds just didn’t land. The wintering flock of Canada Geese had left by early April and that was that.

In Masset, up to 300 White-fronts landed and a few are still visible in the Sanctuary. Six Snow Geese feed with them. Shorebirds swept through the second week in May, but most just kept going. Many island songbirds have returned to nest but it seems quieter that previous years. Even the little Pacific Wren is quieter and we wonder if the really miserable cold spell in January, when the wind chill brought the temperature to -22c for over a week might have killed some.  Even the Swainson’s Thrush hasn’t been heard here yet. Sometimes they show up here as early as May 18 (possibly migrants) but as of today, May 25, none have been heard.

The first Red-breasted Nuthatch of 2012 sang in the trees on May 23 and the Pacific-slope Flycatcher has been here for over a week.

Early November 2012

Snowy Owls are appearing all along the beaches. There were six at Sandspit on October 30 but when Peter went there on Monday Nov 5 he found 15! We estimate that there are at least thirty to forty owls along the island beaches. Reports of sightings come in almost daily.  A dead Snowy Owl arrived at our door today Nov 7. It seemed to have died of hunger. The finder said it had been alive the day before but he found it this morning face down between the beach logs and dune grasses. He felt badly about not doing something about it earlier, but it may have been too far gone even then. Sadly, there is  not much here for the owls to eat – we don’t have a large population of mice and many of the owls are feeding in the seaweed, gleaning what protein they can.

Snowy Owl Haida Gwaii

A female Mountain Bluebird hawked from a fence-line on October 30 but hasn’t been seen since. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen one here.

We’ve seen small flocks of Lapland Longspurs for the past few weeks. Always elusive and busy, they rarely stop for a photograph, except for this one.

Lapland Longspur Oct 30 2012

The Short-eared Owls that were here a few weeks ago may have gone south. Hundreds of Aleutian Geese have shown up over the past few weeks. They are small, silvery grey and usually stick together. The airport staff harass them constantly to keep them from feeding on the strip and the flocks separate and re land. There have been four or five Snow Geese and small flocks of White-fronted Geese in the mix. Interestingly, just today, November 7, over 300 Canada Geese flew south over Masset. It seemed late, the main flocks moved through during the first two weeks in October.

Checking the Junco flocks continues to pay dividends. After finding the Rustic Bunting and Bramblings with them in October, today, near Masset an American Tree Sparrow flew up into the low bush with a feeding flock of Juncos.  It even sang in the sun. It’s been stormy and wet for the past few days, maybe other birds will drop down.

Small flocks of  Red Crossbills ‘kip-kip’ overhead, there’s a decent wild food crop this year, unlike last year when the cone crop failed almost completely. It’s also pretty cold up north, so birds are leaving to find food. An injured Tundra Swan was picked up on November 10, it seemed to have a wing injury from hitting the power lines.  It may survive.